Einstein Apathy


Mike Vargas Education, Education Policy, Mathematics, Mentoring, Professional Development, Science, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership, Uncategorized

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Recently I walked into a gas station and inquired about the job posting. The manager position I inquired about offered a higher salary per year than our new first year teachers with specialized training in education. When the starting salaries at gas stations are higher than that of educational professionals, many of whom have spent considerable time and effort gaining advanced degrees and certificates to be able to teach in this state, what incentive does that give to new teachers? There are numerous issues in public education today. Economic disparity, the achievement gap, lack of funding, the great teacher exodus, where do I begin. However, the root of many of these issues, are much deeper and bigger than most people realize.

Our current system is old and falling apart. Like the highways and bridges, we built 60 years ago, the infrastructure that holds up our current education model needs revamping in a way that adjusts to 20th century learners. The American public education system is the economic engine that keeps this country moving forward. It is the great equalizer that allows for people of all classes and backgrounds to do and be whoever they want to be. What we have lost sight of is how sacred this teaching responsibility is to our national security, our liberty, and our mutual national identity.

At the root of many of these issues is “apathy”. Whether we are talking about budgets, teacher salaries or, the achievement gap, all of these issues have at their core a level of apathy that impedes the forward advancement of getting the problem fixed. If more people valued and understood what teachers do each and every day, day in and day out, then people in power would not cut the education budgets the way they have. Voters would not have to pass overrides to make their budgets work, bonds would be successfully passed, and schools would be well funded and staffed. However, for whatever reason, we still don’t vote, nor do we take serious issue with legislators that cut educational funding to the bone. It all comes down to apathy. What kind of workforce stays and endures the poor treatment teachers have received in recent years, and how does that translate into the experience our students receive? Do we want educators in classrooms that are here only for summers off? Or do we want highly qualified, energetic, enthusiastic, hardworking, go-getter types of people who are willing to give 110% every day. The culture needs to change.  High standards are a cornerstone of any chain of command and along with rise in rank through the course of a career so must compensation for excellent services rendered.

What needs to happens is a concise long game of strategic management/public relations on the part of our educational institutions to make learning and academia “IT” again. As my science colleagues often speak about, “ IT science wins” grants and funding. But more importantly it wins hearts, minds, and interest into doing good science. Education in this state needs a full-blown make-over. A campaign if you will, equal in scope and receptiveness that can start changing the conversation in favor of students. It took Cato the Roman statesman about 20 years, but he got his war with Carthage after repeating the famous words at the end of every one of his speeches in imperial Rome “Thank you gentleman of the senate, and “ Carthage Must Be Destroyed” Classical counterintelligence propaganda 101. We need to take notes and do the same.
Action must be taken sooner rather than later before it’s too late. If we do not invest in people, we risk a workforce not up to the task. Voices matter. Like fans of a successful athletic team, we need to rally people to a cause that is worthy of their attention. A shared apathy has brought us to a point where we need to stop and take notice of our situation. We are the stewards of our children’s future; we must collectively come together on the same team and take all these issues to our state legislators and our voting public. We need to make our voices heard at the voting booth. We need to advocate that this is unacceptable and legislators who do, will find themselves in the general population after the next election. Apathy is no longer acceptable in education. Voices matter and we must be vigilant and forthright in a common goal of revamping our educational infrastructure so that it can stand the weight of the coming generations who will drive our future economic engine both here in Arizona and in the United States of America. Let’s play the long game. Fight the apathy and make positive change. The courage to do so lies in every heart.


My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I earned my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years. I teach high school physics at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

Comments 10

  1. Donnie Lee

    Every time I read one of your blogs, I always get amazed by your biography as I scroll down to comment. European championships?! I’ve been a fan of yours since I saw your physics video last year at the AEF luncheon. I like your message in this blog. I think many people are tired of hearing the same old song from teachers. Everyone knows we do not make enough. I have found that is helpful to focus on a different issue as I tie our pay into it. I also found that I get less apathy if I have a “solution” prepared to share. It may not be a good solution but at least it looks like I’m trying to fix the problem and not just complain.

    1. Mike Vargas

      Donnie – that’s funny, because I am one of your biggest fans! I’m totally in awe of you brotha. yea I have been around the coaching block, so I guess I don’t look at things the same as others.. I’m still very much on the lookout for the W’s … That aside… I do believe the call to action needs to be choreographed and executed like a long term rebuilding project.. If your a good coach, and you take over a losing program. You don’t win the 1, 2, or even third year. Your success happens senior year and the 5th year, when the way of doing things in the past is finally purged and your model is all that anyone remembers.. It takes brainwashing, buy in, and tactical execution. What we are doing now isn’t working… We sound like a broken record as professionals.. We need to start bringing some serious A game if we are ever going to win some rings for AZ teachers… Teachers in other countries have gone on length country wide strikes for much less pay issues than we have endured.. Our shared Apathy is killing us.

      1. Donnie Lee

        I think Arizona is in a unique position right now due to the teacher shortage. If we could unite, we could demand a lot and quite possibly get it. Can you imagine if every Arizona teacher walked out of the classroom for a week?! We all couldn’t be fired because they couldn’t replace us. But we won’t. We don’t want to “hurt our students” so we will suffer and turmoil as others take control of our profession.

  2. Beth Maloney

    Mike, this is a powerful, true piece. We do need to revamp our system and our public relations. And I think we need to do it from inside the profession. Donnie brought up a good point below that we need to be more solutions-focused. We need to come together as a profession and mark a clear path for our future before our path ends in the destruction of our profession and our public schools.

  3. kbuffett

    What a powerful post, Mike. As you mentioned, the American public education system is in dire need of a makeover. There has to be more investment in the people who are tasked with helping to uphold the infrastructure (regardless of its effectiveness) – your point about teacher pay should definitely be one of the first issues addressed.

    If potential educators aren’t incentivized to join the field, that just doesn’t hurt policymakers and school leaders – it hurts the children too. I have had many discussions with teacher-in-training friends who have been met with varying levels of criticism and concern about the field they have chosen. Even public school teachers I have had in the past have recently voiced concerns about the future (or lack thereof) of people joining the education field.

    I absolutely agree with that point that teachers are not nearly as valued in society as they should be. You’re totally right: there has to be a substantive cultural change in order for our education system to truly change for the better. Thank you for articulating this need in such a concise and salient way.

  4. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    I agree– there is a lot of inaction from an awful lot of people who say they care. But I think there are two prongs to this problem: Even when people speak up, what few people are willing to talk about is the role of dark money in thwarting the will of the voting public. How many tens of thousands of calls did senators get asking them not to confirm our secretary of education? Did it matter? I believe on a certain level, it did matter, and it does matter, and we need to keep up the efforts to professionalize teaching and to create a system that works.

    But even with that core belief, on another level I struggle when I think about how loudly the money has talked when it comes to education policy in our state and around the country. I think people might be a bit less apathetic if they felt that the “so called” angry masses were being listened to. It is natural for people to become discouraged.

  5. Treva Jenkins

    Hi Mike- I couldn’t agree more, especially when you said “Apathy is no longer acceptable in education. Voices matter and we must be vigilant and forthright in a common goal of revamping our educational infrastructure…” We have to continue to be advocates for our profession. We have to be the author of this narrative. It starts with us. I believe that student and teacher voice must be at the core of any meaningful education reform effort!

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